Will your employer help you live longer?

One of the more intriguing developments at this month's White House Conference on Aging was the introduction of a first-of-its-kind workplace training program focusing on living longer.

The purpose of the Longevity Training Program, a collaboration between Bank of America Merrill Lynch and the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, is to raise greater awareness and understanding of the nation's aging workforce among human resources and benefits professionals. The course offers online training, including a series of videos by professors at the USC School of Gerontology and other thought leaders. At the end of the course, participants receive a certificate of participation.

Once implemented, the program helps employees and their families focus on seven life priorities developed by Merrill Lynch, as follows:

Do a good job in these seven areas, according to Merrill Lynch, and you've increased the odds that you'll live long and prosper.

"Providing HR professionals greater access to this knowledge can help them better connect with employees as they progress through their careers and toward their later years," said Andy Sieg, head of Global Wealth & Retirement Solutions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Forward-thinking employers realize they can better attract, retain and manage an aging workforce if they help their employees cope with the challenges of living longer, a trend visible around the world.

"Increased longevity leads to longer retirements, changing health care choices, more housing transitions and many other challenges to financial security," said Pinchas Cohen, dean of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. "As more people reach retirement age, there needs to be deeper knowledge inside every company regarding the realities of longevity in order to engage in relevant and supportive discussions with employees about their goals and concerns."

An earlier report by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave identifies the top steps that employers can take to accommodate an older workforce, including:

  • Flexible work schedules
  • Telecommuting
  • Improving work space ergonomics for lighting, seating, flooring and other environmental factors
  • Employee wellness programs

Some baby boomers are redefining retirement, and many report they want to work during their retirement years. Many of them also need the income and benefits from a job to supplement their meager retirement resources, but they also want the social interaction that work can provide and to remain engaged.

Smart employers can benefit by accommodating and tapping into the skills and experience of an aging workforce, but it takes planning and effort to do just that. Learning more about the challenges and opportunities of leading a longer life is a good place to start.

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.